27 Sep UW-Madison gets $13 million to study nanotech
MADISON, Wis. — A new kind of science is revolutionizing technology, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison just received more than $13 million to harness its potential during the next five years.
The science, called nanotechnology, is the study of materials and processes at scales so small that they’re practically invisible under the lens of almost any microscope. These materials measure between one and 100 nanometers, with a single unit equal to one billionth of a meter. In comparison, the width of a human hair, for example, is about 50,000 nanometers.
Because these units are so small, materials of this size and processes that occur at this scale often display behaviors that are different from those observed at larger scales, says Paul Nealey, professor of chemical and biological engineering. Nealey will direct the university’s new Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC), funded by the recent grant from the National Science Foundation.
Therein lies the promise of nanotechnology: to identify and understand properties of materials, processes and systems at this small scale and then develop technology based on these discoveries to fabricate new and innovative products that improve our daily lives.
“Nanotechnology has great potential to transform many diverse areas of technology – from making faster and more integrated circuits, to building biosensors that detect chemical changes in the environment, to developing new classes of anti-microbial materials, to revolutionizing health care through decoding the human genome,” says Nealey. “One of the grand challenges is to figure out how to fabricate large-scale functional assemblies of nanoscopic materials or building blocks to take advantage of the unique properties of materials, processes and systems at the nanoscale for technological applications.”
Under the umbrella of NSEC – one of six new federally funded nanotechnology centers – Nealey will bring together more than 25 chemists, biologists, physicists and engineers to research directed assembly at the nanoscale. Alongside the development of these assembly processes, researchers also will discuss, examine and evaluate the societal implications of nanotechnology’s possible applications.
“We know from past experience that it’s no longer appropriate to pursue science without thinking about the societal implications at the same time,” he says. “One of the most exciting components of our NSEC – that’s on equal footing with the science and engineering – is a strong research program in the societal implications of nanotechnolgy.” This research program, he adds, also will work to educate the public about this scientific field.
NSEC also plans to establish fellowship programs, develop international
collaborations, and share its facilities and instrumentation with faculty across the campus, and with external academic and industrial researchers.
Paul Nealey from UW-Madison Communications can be reached at email@example.com.